1.  Use commas to separate items in a series of three or more.

e.g.  The required subjects in this program are math, physics, and English.

Tom went to the movies, Jan and Jasmine went to play pool, and I went to bed.

Exercise:  Insert commas where necessary in the following sentences.

1.  The five largest cities in Canada were once Montreal Toronto Quebec Ottawa and Hamilton.

2.   My favourite bands are Teenage Fanclub The Weekend and Coldplay.

3.  Red and white are the colours of the Canadian flag.

4.  I want my wedding to be unusual, but I can’t decide whether the bridesmaids should wear black brown or olive dresses.

5.  Mr. Doberman came to the dance wearing a short-sleeved green shirt and chinos.

2.  Use commas to set off any word of phrase that is not ESSENTIAL to the main idea of the sentence (to find out whether a word, phrase, or clause is essential, try crossing it out.  If the main idea remains unchanged and the sentence still makes sense, the crossed-out expression is non-essential and should be set off by commas.

e.g.  Writing a good letter of application isn’t difficult, if you’re careful.

The phrase “if you’re careful” is not essential to the main idea of the sentence, so it’s separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma.

Writing a letter of application that is clear and concise is a challenge.

If you take out “that is clear and concise,” you change the meaning of the sentence.  Not all letters of application are a challenge to write: only clear and concise ones.  Writing vague and wordy letters is easy; anyone can do it.  The words “that is clear and concise” are therefore essential to the meaning of the sentence, so they are not set off by commas.

Exercise:  Insert commas where necessary in the following sentences.

1.  Sandra a recovering alcoholic has been sober for twelve years.

2.  Coach Quarles my favourite teacher taught us the value of determination.

3.  Anyone who has seen a hockey game knows there is more to the sport than meets the fist.

4.  My father’s favourite song believe it or not is “Snowbird.”

5.   Practicing the piano is an excellent way to release tension while engaging the mind in a creative process.

3.  Put a comma between independent clauses when they are joined by these transitional words:

for                   but                   so

and                  or

nor                   yet

(you can remember these words easily if you notice that their first letters spell “fanboys.”)

e.g.  I hope I do well in the interview, for I really want this job.

Kevin is a better actor, but Bruce gets more parts.

I rang the doorbell, and my neighbour suddenly appeared in his bathrobe.

Ted plans to visit China next year, so he is taking a class in conversational Mandarin.

Be sure that the sentence you are punctuating contains two independent clauses rather than one clause with a single subject and a multiple verb.

We loved the book but hated the movie.

(We is the subject and there are two verbs, loved and hated.  Do not put a comma between two or more verbs that share a single subject.)

We both loved the book, but Kim hated the movie.

(This sentence contains two independent clauses—We loved and Kim hated—joined by but.  The comma is required here.)

Exercise:  Insert commas where they are needed in the following sentences.

1.  We can’t see our children nor can we hear them.

2.  Please pay attention for the lesson today will be on the exam.

3.  No one who has seen him play doubts that he is destined to become a superstar.

4.  This is my first full-time job so I don’t want to mess it up.

5.  We have a choice: we can stand on our hands or walk on our knees.

4.  Put a comma after a word or group of words that comes before an independent clause.

Jan, please take notes for us.

On her way to the Juno Awards, Shania was mobbed by autograph seekers.

If Kraft Dinner is their idea of lunch, we’d better bring our own sandwiches.

Exercise:  Insert commas where they are needed in the following sentences.

1.   Daddy why is the sky blue?

2.  Walking slowly across the beam I made it to the other side without looking at the water below.

3.  Until I received a raise I didn’t think I was appreciated at work.

4.  No matter how long I practice I can never seem to play that song very well.

5.  When the first leaves fall from the trees I prepare myself for another school year filled with new faces, old memories, and new challenges.

The rest of the exercises require you to apply all four comma rules.  After you have punctuated each sentence, identify the rule(s) you applied.  For example:

On Tuesday our marks will be posted.

On Tuesday, our marks will be posted.  (rule 4)

1.  After being diagnosed with Hepatitis C Pamela Anderson started to speak out about the need for health research.

2.  Maya you aren’t colouring inside the lines!

3.  Trevor laughs like a chicken walks like a duck and sings like a turkey.

4.  We won the first game but we lost the second and third.

5.  Acadians the French-speaking settlers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became known in Louisiana as Cajuns.

6.  If you know what you are doing driving a car with manual transmission isn’t difficult.

7.  The Apple Blossom Festival which takes place every May brings in thousands of tourists.

8.  If you enjoy running through the woods swimming in the lake and cycling through the mountains you might consider competing in a triathalon.

9.  On Wednesday evening the budget committee will meet to elect a new chair for the next fiscal year.

10.  When my family moved to Victoria from Labrador City I felt as if I had moved from one country to another.

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